Syrian-led talks are the only way to reach peace in Syria, otherwise the country will descend into dire sectarian conflict, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said following his meeting with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.
Lavrov said there is no way to make Syrian President Bashar Assad shift his firm position of not stepping down from his office. On the other hand, the newly set up Syrian Opposition Coalition has proclaimed in its declaration there would be no dialogue with the current Syrian regime.
“A collection of factors is stalling the [peace] process, but in particular it is an absolutely uncompromising attitude on both parts,” the FM said. “This refusal to compromise should be overturned. For that, global players who support either party to the conflict should be putting across a unified message: stop the bloodshed and sit to negotiations.”
On Saturday, the head of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, said the group will start talks with Moscow only after Russia “clearly states they denounce the cruelty of the Syrian regime and says goodbye to Assad.”
At the same time, Lavrov has stated on numerous occasions that Russia will not try to persuade the Syrian President to quit as it is only up to the Syrian people to decide if Assad must go. The veteran Russian diplomat supported Brahimi’s statement, saying that there are still chances for “a political solution”.
Moscow does not assist Damascus with offensive weapons – or indeed any weapons that could be used in a civil war, Lavrov stressed. The same goes for Russian special forces.
“We don’t have dozens and hundreds of special forces representatives on the ground or in the region or in Syria’s neighboring countries or even in some territories within Syria itself,” Lavrov declared. “We don’t supply the Syrian regime with offensive weapons or weapons that can be used in a civil war.”
Moscow has been accused several times of trying to deliver military equipment to Syria. In one of the latest incidents a Russian ship was intercepted carrying helicopters for Damascus. Later the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who slammed Russia for sending “combat” helicopters to the Syrian goverment, had to admit that in reality those were “old helicopters” refurbished under old contracts. In November Lavrov reiterated that Russia is not planning to sign any more military contracts with Syria and now only honors old contracts, many of which date back to the Soviet era.
But questions have been raised over the aid role played by Western and Arab countries, supporting the Syrian rebels with money and equipment. In October, Washington approved dispatching troops to neighboring Jordan to help deal with the Syrian crisis, while in December NATO sanctioned sending Patriot missiles systems to Turkey.
However, the basis for any future plan in Syria should be the Geneva communiqué which calls for the end of violence and dialogue between all, Lavrov said on Saturday.
The minister pointed out that the Syrian Opposition Coalition's demands go against the Geneva agreements.
"When the National Coalition was formed we drew attention to the fact that it was stated in their platform that their position is uncompromising, their goal is the overthrow of the regime," Lavrov said.
Russia strongly advocates for the agreements reached during the meeting of an Action Group in Geneva, which was initiated by then UN-Arab League envoy in Syria, Kofi Annan. The Geneva communiqué called on both parties in Syria to immediately stop the violence and begin negotiations to agree on “a transitional governing body.”
Lakhdar Brahimi has also stressed the importance of the agreements reached in Geneva in June, calling it a great achievement of Kofi Annan, Sergey Lavrov, Hilary Clinton and many others. He admitted that the Geneva agreements remain the main mechanism of Syrian settlement, but noted that they will probably have to be amended.
The UN and Arab League envoy warned that a further deterioration of the Syria crisis, which has already claimed over 45,000 lives, would send an unbearable stream of refugees to neighboring countries.
"If you have a panic in Damascus and if you have one million people leaving Damascus in a panic, they can go to only two places — Lebanon and Jordan. Neither Lebanon or Jordan can support without breaking 500,000 refugees," Brahimi said after meeting Lavrov.
Earlier this week Brahimi met with President Bashar Assad and leading opposition representatives in Damascus brokering for the solution for the Syrian crisis. However no progress was announced after the talks.
Brahimi, an Algerian veteran, was appointed the new UN-Arab League peace envoy for Syria after Kofi Annan resigned in August.